India through the Jewish History Lens

Taj Mahal, India

Free Zoom Presentation:

The Art of Travel:  India through the Jewish History Lens – A Personal Journey

Hosted by: New City Library, NY

Date & Time: Wednesday, August 4, at 7:00 pm EST U.S.

Irene Shaland, a Jewish historian, came to see India as not just another country on her exploration list but as a place in space and time where one comes for self-discovery and personal growth. You have to know deep down why you are coming to India. If you do know why, you are bound to discover the most refined beauty and the deepest spirituality. Travelling through India, you will gradually learn – like peeling the onion, layer after layer – some very important truths about yourself and history, about people and myths they create. Something unexpected and wonderful might happen during this trip.

Hopefully, India, unique among the world civilizations with its seven thousand years of uninterrupted traditions, will forever become an integral part of your mental landscape. For Irene, a passionate Jewish history aficionado, India has changed her own understanding of Jewish identity. And this presentation will illustrate how and why this happened.

Join Irene on a virtual trip through layers of historic periods, artistic and architectural styles, and a multitude of cultural traditions and fascinating Indian Jewish stories of origin. This presentation, enriched by Alex Shaland’s photography, will transport you to Delhi, Varanasi, Khajuraho, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Jaipur, Udaipur, Aurangabad, Ellora and Ajanta caves, Cochin, and finally – Mumbai.

This event is free, but a reservation is required.  Please follow the link to the library website to register:

https://newcity.librarycalendar.com/events/india-through-jewish-history-lens

Phone: (845)-634-4997 ext. 139

Meet the presenter Irene Shaland.

Take a look at the schedule of our events: Schedule of Events.

Elvis Presley Was Jewish

Elvis Presley

By guest author:  Rabbi Barbara Aiello

This article is re-published with permission of its author Rabbi Barbara Aiello. Image curtesy of Rabbi Barbara Aiello.

“He passed away 40 years ago on August 16, 1977. On the Hebrew calendar the date was the second day in the Hebrew month of Elul, 5737.  Why a “yahrzeit” for Elvis? As unusual as it may seem, a little known fact about Elvis Presley is that, by the Jewish law of matrilineal descent, Elvis Presley was Jewish.

In her book, “Elvis and Gladys,” historian and biographer Elaine Dundy writes about Elvis Aron Presley’s Jewish heritage. Elvis’ great great maternal grandmother, Nancy Burdine was married to Abner Tackett. “Nancy was of particular interest to Gladys (Elvis’ mother) for her Jewish heritage as Gladys often recounted that Nancy had given her sons, Sidney and Jerome, Jewish names. Nancy and Abner (who some say was half-Jewish himself) had a daughter Martha who married White Mansell. Their daughter, nick-named Doll, was Elvis’ maternal grandmother.”

“Elvis’ grandparents had nine children, among them, a daughter, Gladys Love, who became mother to Elvis Presley. After his mother died, Elvis personally sought to design his beloved mother’s gravesite which included a Star of David on her tombstone. It was Elvis’ decision  to honor his Jewish heritage, something his mother was proud of and acknowledged to Elvis at a very early age.

Elvis was born and grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi in a poor area called “The Pinch.”  The Pinch was home to what locals called the “rag trade,” the industry born of immigrants, mostly Jewish, who repaired and resold second hand clothing. Presley’s roots go back to the time when Jewish immigrants came to America and established the rag trade there.  In fact Elvis’ great great grandmother, Nancy Burdine descended from a family that emigrated from Lithuania, probably around the time of the American Revolution. That’s right. Elvis was a Litvak!

Elvis Aron was born a twin whose brother, Jesse Garon, passed away in infancy. A young cousin recalls a visit she made to the Presley home, where mourners sat on low chairs and where mirrors and pictures were covered in white. “It was years later,” says the cousin, “that I realized that these were Jewish traditions.”

Always aware of his Jewish heritage, Elvis Presley put his pride into action through numerous donations to the Memphis Jewish community.

Each year, for many years, Elvis gave $1,000 or more to each of fifty Memphis-area charities. Presley’s largest contributions were to the Memphis synagogues, the Jewish Federation, and the Memphis Jewish Community Center. Presley even funded several Jewish education programs as well – philanthropic endeavors that received little or no publicity.

Throughout his adult life, Presley reached out to those in need, often paying hospital bills for family members, friends and total strangers. His generosity even reached “The Pinch,” where he renovated the area where he grew up. Close friends report that Presley was adamant that his gifts remain anonymous – and was heard to say, “That’s the Jewish way.” –Rabbi Barbara Aiello, Aug. 16, 2017

Learn more about Rabbi Barbara and read more fascinating blog posts: https://www.rabbibarbara.com

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Meeting the Jewish Community of Mumbai India

Irene Shaland and guides inside the Mumbai Mogen David Synagogue

Excerpt from Irene Shaland’s book “The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories.”

Jews settled in Mumbai (Bombay) in the 18th century. First, the Baghdadi arrived in the 1730s. Then, the Bene Israel began migrating from the countryside into the city in the 1740s. Today, Mumbai has the largest Jewish community in India: 3,500 to 4,000 people, most of whom are the Bene Israel. We visited two of the city’s eight synagogues: Kenesseth Eliyahoo and Magen David. Both were built by the Sassons, the wealthiest family of the Baghdadi Jews. The elegant blue structure of the Magen David Synagogue was erected by David Sasson in 1861. Hanna and Eliyahoo were waiting for us inside.

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Discovering Jewish Connections in Sardinia

Cagliari

Sardinia is an island famed for its unearthly beauty. Sardinia is second only to Sicily in its size among the Mediterranean islands. Like Sicily, Sardinia attracted numerous waves of invaders: Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, the Italian city-states of Pisa and Genoa, and the Spanish Kingdom of Aragon—all succeeded one another in dominating the island. The Northern Italians came last, with Garibaldi himself falling in love with the island. He chose to live the last years of his life in Carpera, Sardinia.

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THE JEWISH GREETING FOR THE SECULAR NEW YEAR

Reprinted with permission of the author, Rabbi Barbara Aiello

Throughout Israel, especially in Tel Aviv, the last day of the year is “party night.” On December 31st Israelis will celebrate along with the rest of the world but instead of shouting “Happy New Year,” Israelis do something different.  As the year turns from one year to the next, Israel’s Jews will wish each other a “Happy Sylvester,” a New Year’s greeting that invokes, of all things, the name of a Catholic saint!

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Irene Shaland’s Cuba article published by Mosaic magazine

Irene Shaland’s Cuba article  The Island within an Island: The Cuban Jewish Story of Survival was published on August 22nd by the Sephardi Ideas Monthly, a magazine of the American Sephardic Federation and Center for Jewish History Research of New York. On August 23rd, the essay was also published by the Mosaic, a magazine dedicated to advancing philosophical discussions related to Jewish history and Judaism. See the excerpts below:

http://bit.ly/2wKtbzx

Read more Jewish history stories in Irene Shaland’s latest book:

http://amzn.to/1PM8I1x

Siracusa is a Top Destination in Sicily

Ortigia area of Siracusa

Siracusa is truly a summation of Sicilian splendor, and if there is one city in Sicily that personifies this magnificent island it is Siracusa. The city is 3,000 years in the making and combines Greek and Roman civilizations with ancient Jewish culture and baroque masterpieces. Great history of Western civilization: Founded in 734 BC by Greeks from Corinth, Siracusa grew to become a city larger than Corinth and Athens, turning into a capital of Magna Crecia. It became an intellectual magnet that attracted the best brain power of the ancient world: from Aeschylus and Pindar of theater and poetry to Archimedes in mathematics and physics. 

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Masai – the Lost Tribe of Israel

Masai warrior dance

Masai Warriors – “God’s Chosen People”

This is a Jewish story of Africa that I found in the most unlikely of places: the vast plains of Masai Mara and Serengeti reserves. As we drove there, we saw the light-skinned, tall, slender people dressed in red, who were as ubiquitous to the landscape as sky above and earth below. Surrounded by their herd of cattle, they leaned on their long spears or stood on one leg in a stork-like pose. Bearing remarkable similarities to ancient Romans from North Africa, most had classical profiles, wore red togas and sandals, and were equipped with Roman-style short stabbing swords. Women had shaved heads, while the young men’s hair was plated and stuck together with red clay. To us, they looked like young mythical gods. These are the proud Masai (sometimes referred to as Maasai) people of East Africa, whose mysterious past is enveloped in legends of being one of the lost tribes of Israel.

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